It was five years after he suffered a stroke that David Warry found out about home care packages.
“I got on to Care Connect through friends who were getting a package through them and they could see that we were struggling,” he said.
“I had never even heard of home care packages. I spoke to our GP and he said that we qualified.
“My home care package has given me back my independence.
“Before my stroke, I was very involved in the community but not being able to drive made it impossible to maintain my commitments.
“My package helps me pay for all sorts of things, from my gym membership to my glasses, someone to come and clean the windows and do some heavy gardening a couple of times a year and taxis – which has meant I don’t need to rely on wife to take me everywhere.
“Its been about seven years since my package started – it’s been a life saver.”
Who is eligible?
To be eligible to receive a home care package, you need to have an Aged Care Assessment Team evaluation – normally called an ACAT, or ACAS in Victoria.
The assessment is free and will normally be conducted in your home.
You are welcome to have a friend or family member attend the meeting with you (in fact it can be a good idea) and, if you need an interpreter, the ACAT can arrange one for you.
There is no age restriction on receiving a home care package. It is based on your needs.
There are four levels of package. The higher the level, the higher the financial assistance. A Level 1 package comes with a basic subsidy of $24.07 a day while a Level 4 package is worth $139.70 daily.
In addition to the basic subsidy there are supplements to support people with special care needs such as dementia.
There is a waiting time for your assessment to be conducted – anything from a few weeks to a few months, depending on your needs and location.
Tip: Many people delay applying for a package until the need is urgent. Don’t wait. Apply early.
Tip: As part of your ACAT assessment, the team will also look at other services that may assist you, such as a respite stay in an aged care home or even permanent entry.
Think of your ACAT as like a passport – if you’re approved then you can use it and the government will fund it. If you are not, you will need to be re-assessed again later.
Trap: The purpose of the assessment is to determine what support you need to live independently.
You might want to put your best foot forward but don’t say “I’m fine,” or downplay the support you actually need. It won’t be in your own best interests.
What happens next?
Assuming you have been approved for a home care package, when you receive your assessment back (known as a support plan) it will list the services you have been approved for and you will be placed in the national prioritisation queue.
As at June 30, there were about 120,000 people waiting in the queue for a home care package.
Almost 72,000 people were waiting without a home care package (although they may be receiving Commonwealth Home Support Programme) and about 48,000 were waiting with an “interim package,” which is a lower-level package than their assessed need.
The average wait time for packages 2, 3 and 4 – the highest levels of support – is more than 12 months. However, there are regular reports of people waiting more than two years.
Tip: While waiting for your package to commence, it is a great time to research which home care package provider you want to host your services.
Choosing a provider
When it comes to choosing a provider to host your home care package, it pays to shop around.
Your preferred provider may not be able to offer their services immediately, so doing this early can be a good idea.
No matter who you choose to host your package, there will be administration fees (to manage the payment of your services) and case management costs (you are required to have a care plan).
However, how much it costs varies widely from one provider to another.
On top of these fundamental costs there is also the fee you pay for the services you receive. There are often travel costs, too – unless you live somewhere like a retirement village, where the care is often already onsite.
There are a few service providers that enable you to self-manage your home care package.
The provider still develops your care plan and charges an administration fee, but it can be significantly cheaper.
For example, service provider Let’s Get Care charges 13 per cent, which covers government compliance, paying your service providers, and keeping track of your package funds.
It’s then up to you to arrange your individual care.
Online service providers, such as Mable, can then connect you with care workers in your local area.
Mable charges up to 15 per cent – 5 per cent paid by you and 10 per cent by the worker – while ensuring that workers have a police check, qualification checks and appropriate insurances.
You then negotiate the cost, services, days and times directly with the care worker.
What services can you get?
It’s really up to you. Your package can support you with daily essential activities, such as showering and dressing, through to the purchase of mobility aids and home modifications.
However, you can’t use your home care package funds to cover accommodation costs, such as rent or mortgage payments, for holidays, or paying for doctor visits.
The total amount of funding in your package will depend on the level of package you receive and whether or not you pay the basic daily fee.
What does it cost?
Everyone who receives a home care package can pay the basic daily fee. The maximum is based on your package level.
Your ability to contribute beyond the basic daily fee is based on your (and, if applicable, your partner’s) income through what is called an income-tested care fee.
People who receive the full age pension do not pay an income-tested care fee.
People with higher levels of income, which is based on Centrelink’s income test and may be different the income you actually receive, pay an income-tested care fee on top.
The income-tested fee is calculated at 50c per dollar of income above the threshold and capped at $5,551 a year for part-pensioners and $11,102 a year for self-funded retirees.
There is also a lifetime cap of $66,611. Your income-tested care fee cannot exceed the cost of your care, which is the funding the government provides.
Tip: The basic daily fee can be negotiated but the income-tested care fee cannot (it is used to offset the government funding).
Negotiating the basic daily fee can make your care package more affordable and, in the case of a full pensioner, free. However, just remember that it will mean there is less money in your total package.
Tip: The means assessment for a home care package is based only on income – unlike residential aged care, which includes assets, too.
Choosing investments that are friendly for Centrelink’s income test could be a worthwhile strategy, even if you are a self-funded retiree.
Tip: You don’t have to submit to the income assessment. If you don’t, you just pay the maximum income-tested care fee of $30 a day (but not more than the funding) and you will still get the annual cap and lifetime limit.
Work out what you will need to pay before you start filling in the form. If you are going to pay the maximum amount, then you can save yourself the hassle of doing the paperwork.
Tom started using a full service home care package provider two years ago but wasn’t happy with the cost.
“I was charged $700 for a compulsory visit from a case manager, then there was also a $500 exit fee to discourage people from leaving,” he said.
He then elected to start managing his own package.
“So, I started using Let’s Get Care to host my package and Mable because because they do the background check and make sure there are the right insurances and ABN and I then interviewed my own carers,” he said.
“It’s an excellent system, I’m very happy.
“I’m saving a lot in case management and admin fees – about $250 per month. The other way I save is through the fees I pay for the services themselves
“I was quoted $58 per hour for cleaning, versus $35 to $40 an hour now.
“I estimate my savings would be about 30 per cent, compared with a traditional provider,” he said.